PHOENIX, Ariz. – “We won’t have justice in Maricopa County until Federal immigration agents get out of the county jail and stop relying on prejudiced policies. We won’t have justice until the victims of Arpaio get the justice they deserve.”
Those are the words of Carlos Garcia, executive director of grassroots human rights organization Puente, only minutes after Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren left the stage at Netroots. The crowd, still pumped up from Warren’s unabashed liberal rhetoric, hung on Garcia’s every word.
Shortly thereafter, the crowd of thousands congregated just outside the Phoenix convention center where bottled waters, chant sheets, and signs were handed to the participants in the rally. The march was to proceed .7 miles to the infamous 4th Avenue Jail where Sheriff Joe Arpaio rules in a reign of racist terror.
Arpaio’s tactics, considered by many as fascistic in nature, include infamous workplace raids and neighborhood patrols designed to make people feel unsafe in their own homes.
Noemi Romero, an activist with Puente spoke about her experience through a translator.
“I experienced this very directly when Arpaio conducted a worksite raid and it affected a family member of mine. We would see on the TV when Arpaio conducts these raids at worksites and on the streets. A family member called me and said, ‘are you watching television’ and I said yes. He said ‘don’t expect me to come home tonight.’ That feeling of impotence, that feeling of fear and psychological pain is something I will never forget and that is why I am here.”
The marchers chanted slogans of “arrest Arpaio, not the people” and “Arpaio-free Arizona.” When they arrived at the 4th Avenue Jail, they did one loop around it and convened at the main entrance. A handful of counter-protestors shouted and carried signs that read “Thank you Joe.”
When the march stopped, the dancing began. There was jubilant defiance on display as the sounds of the artist Selena rang out and were accompanied by the crowd.
Vice President of the AFL-CIO, Tefare Gabre, an immigrant himself, spoke bearing a message of solidarity from the organized working class. He spoke about his experience as an Ethiopian child refugee who had to walk through a desert for months to “find this country of freedom, the United States.”
“I did not risk my life to come to this country to be hauled away by Sheriff Arpaio. Now imagine, there are freedom seekers like myself willing to travel through this heat for 1,700 miles to make it to this country and we should welcome them with open arms instead of deporting them and arresting them and detaining them,” Gebre said letting emotion quake his voice.
Next to speak was Jennicet Gutierrez from the FAMILIA Trans-Queer Liberation Movement who recently leapt into the public eye for interrupting an address by President Obama on the recent nation-wide legalization of same sex marriage. Gutierrez addressed the crowd in Spanish and English.
“To all those that would criticize me, I am not an opportunist. I am not looking for fame. I am joining the movement and raising my voice and the voice of my sisters who are suffering. It is time for our voices to be a part of a larger conversation.”
Finally, before the protest dispersed, famous left-wing hip-hop artist Immortal Technique took to the mic to provide a brief history of U.S. relations with Latin America and had words of advice about spreading the movement to the younger generations.
“The biggest problem with movements is that we don’t pass on what we’ve learned. Please, bring the young people out. Your daughters, your sons, your nephews, nieces, the kid across the street. Bring them out to these marches so they can hear the truth.”
The crowd of thousands dispersed, the majority of them heading back to the Netroots convention to continue the day’s organizing work.
Photo: Local activists and attendees at Netroots Nation 15 march to Phoenix, Ariz. Sheriff’s Department demanding Sheriff Joe Arpaio be arrested. | Earchiel Johnson/PW Flickr